Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/511

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GHOST WORSHIP AND TREE WORSHIP.

not altogether unknown perhaps even at the present day, of each maiden's pouring from her cumanbleoghain, or milking pail, evening and morning, on the fairy knowe, a little of the newdrawn milk from the cow, by way of propitiating the favor of the good people, and as a tribute the wisest, it was deemed, and most acceptable that could be rendered, and sooner or later sure to be repaid a thousandfold. The consequence was that these fairy knolls were clothed with a richer and more beautiful verdure than any other spot, howe or knowe, in the country, and the lacteal riches imbibed by the soil through this custom is even now visible in the vivid emerald green of a shian or fairy knoll whenever it is pointed out to you. This custom of pouring lacteal libations to the fairies on a particular spot deemed sacred to them, was known and practiced at some of the summer shielings in Lochaber within the memory of the people now living."[1]

Fully to appreciate the importance of this evidence we must remember that in almost every case, all over Britain, the "fairy knowe" is a chambered barrow, and that the fairies who emerge from it are the last fading relics in popular memory of the ghosts of stone age chiefs and chieftainesses. This idea, which I long ago put forward in an article in the Cornhill Magazine, entitled Who are the Fairies? has been proved to demonstration by Mr. Joseph Jacobs in the notes on the story of Childe Roland in his valuable collection of English Fairy Tales.

There is yet another way, however, in which the idea of special fertility must become necessarily connected in the savage mind with the graves of his ancestors. For we must remember that early worship almost invariably takes the form of offerings in kind at the tombs of dead chiefs or other revered persons. On this subject the Rev. Duff Macdonald, of Blantyre, in Central Africa (one of the ablest and most unprejudiced of missionary observers), says very significantly: "The ordinary offerings to the gods were just the ordinary food of the people.[2] The spirit of the deceased man is called Mulungu, and all the prayers and offerings of the living are presented to such spirits of the dead. It is here that we find the great center of native religion. The spirits of the dead are the gods of the living. It is the great tree at the veranda of the dead man's house that is their temple, and if no tree grow here they erect a little shade, and there perform their simple rites. If this spot become too public the offerings may be defiled, and the sanctuary will be removed to some carefully selected spot under some beautiful tree." In this we get some first hint of the origin of tree worship.


  1. Rev. A. Stewart. Nether Lochaber, pp. 20, 21.
  2. Africana, vol. i, p. 89.